Women's PGA offers new vibe on historical foundation

By Randall MellJune 9, 2015, 6:20 pm

HARRISON, N.Y. – The size, weight and scale of the LPGA’s flagship event have been magnified tenfold.

At least that’s how it feels with the LPGA Championship fully transformed as the new KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

The LPGA is trying to preserve memories of the major its tour members created 60 years ago, attaching the LPGA Championship’s history, its trophy and its past champions and records to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, but everything feels so fresh and new this week at Westchester Country Club.

This doesn’t feel like the LPGA Championship is being rolled out under a new name as part of a new partnership. It doesn’t feel like a hybrid event or even a rebirth. It feels wondrously new with the muscle of the PGA of America helping the LPGA give birth to something original to the women’s game. It feels like the inaugural Women’s PGA Championship.

“It’s a spectacular move for women’s golf,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said.

The major assumes a new gravitas with the LPGA partnering with the PGA. The scope of the event is so much larger as it now reaches beyond golf. There is a women’s empowerment theme woven into the week. A powerhouse leadership summit designed to “inspire the next generation of women leaders” is scheduled at Westchester Country Club Wednesday to run in conjunction with the championship.


KPMG Women’s PGA: Articles, videos and photos


Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the featured guest in a “fireside chat” at the conclusion of the summit.

“It’s going to be unlike any tournament we’ve ever had,” said Rolex world No. 3 Stacy Lewis. “I think this week is going to set the bar so much higher for our tournaments going forward.”

Playing in the shadow of New York City also adds a crackle and buzz to the week.

But while the LPGA Championship’s metamorphosis into the Women’s PGA excites pros competing this week, there is a bittersweet dynamic to it.

As much as the tour insists the LPGA Championship is woven into the fabric of the KPMG, this new beginning naturally feels like the end of something.

“I would have liked to have seen the LPGA name remain in the title, but there would have been a lot of P’s and G’s,” Hall of Famer Karrie Webb said.

Webb relishes how this major is being elevated, but she also reveres the commitment and sacrifice the tour’s founders made building women’s golf. She doesn’t want to see the LPGA Championship forgotten.

“I don’t really like to think of it as a new major, actually,” Webb said. “To me, it’s still the LPGA Championship. It’s the same trophy, and we’re carrying over the history. It’s a different name, and that’s great the PGA of America is involved. I think it will make it a bigger and better event than it has been the last few years, but I still think of it having our history.”

The LPGA Championship is the second longest running event in women’s professional golf, trailing only the U.S. Women’s Open. Tour pioneers built and named the major after themselves. Beverly Hanson beat Louise Suggs in the match-play final of the first LPGA Championship in 1955 at Orchard Ridge Country Club in Fort Wayne, Ind. The game’s greatest players put their names on its trophy. Mickey Wright won four times with Kathy Whitworth, Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan and Se Ri Pak each winning three times.

Webb is not alone in reminding fans that the Women’s PGA is built on something special.

“It’s still an LPGA tournament,” said Michelle Wie, the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion. “It’s our major. It’s just kind of bigger and better. It’s not a new tournament, but it definitely has a new vibe to it.”

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan made stabilizing and enhancing women’s major championships a priority last year. He did that in a big way partnering with the PGA. The LPGA Championship was sagging. Wegmans was in a year-to-year commitment with the LPGA as title sponsor of the flagship event. Locust Hill Country Club outside Rochester, N.Y., was a fabulous host to a regular tour event, but it didn’t have the grandeur you want in a major championship venue.

Westchester Country Club has that grandeur, and the PGA has promised future venues also will have that with the Women’s PGA rotating to classic venues much the way the PGA Championship does.

“The PGA says they’re going to take us to venues we’ve had trouble getting on in the past,” Webb said. “A major championship should be won on a quality golf course. Whoever wins this week will definitely feel like they won a major championship.”

The Women’s PGA brings other upgrades, including a new network TV deal with Golf Channel broadcasting Thursday and Friday and NBC on the weekend. The purse has jumped from $2.25 million a year ago to $3.5 million this year. It’s second only to the U.S. Women’s Open purse.

“We talked about building something that really elevated the best female golfers on the planet to really whole new heights, purse heights, television heights, venue heights,” Whan said.

Whan also got a partner in his aim to empower women and grow the women’s game.

“What will be special about this week, at this great historic venue, is that it’s going to be a celebration of women on the golf course and off the golf course,” PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua said.

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one 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.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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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?''