Year 2 at Evian packed with big names, big plots

By Randall MellSeptember 9, 2014, 6:51 pm

Evian-les-Bains is famous for its mineral springs, with 17th century French scientists believing in the water’s curative powers.

That can’t hurt Michelle Wie's and Lydia Ko’s chances this week when they tee it up at the Evian Championship in the LPGA’s fifth and final major championship of the year.

Wie is making her return after missing the last month with an injured index finger, while Ko is making her first start after having cysts in her left wrist drained from a fluid buildup that caused pain and swelling.

There’s a load of compelling storylines with a field of 120 players competing for a $3.25 million purse:

• Will Suzann Pettersen continue to be the only winner this major championship has ever known?

• Will Stacy Lewis strengthen her grip on the Rolex World No. 1 ranking and quest to sweep all the LPGA’s significant awards this year?

• Can Wie shake off the rust from a month away from competition and add to the U.S. Women’s Open trophy she won in June?

• Can Ko make this a historic week, becoming the youngest winner of a major championship and the youngest No. 1 in the history of professional golf?

• Will Inbee Park recast her role as Queen Bee of the majors, winning a second major this year to claim the new Rolex Annika Major Award as the best player in the year’s major championships?

• Can Lexi Thompson win her second major championship of the year?

• Will the Evian Resort Golf Club prove major championship worthy after a shaky debut last year?

Wie, 24, broke through to win the U.S. Women’s Open in June, but she’s looking to find that winning form after hurting herself hitting out of a divot at the Marathon Classic in late July. She was diagnosed with a “stress reaction” to the index finger of her right hand.

“I'm feeling pretty good,” Wie told reporters in France at a pre-championship news conference Tuesday. “I'm feeling pretty healthy, and I'm just really happy to be here.”

Wie isn’t 100 percent, though. She said she spent two weeks with the finger in a splint, just began chipping and putting a little more than a week ago and only hit full shots in the last week. She has yet to play 18 holes since injuring herself.

“I kind of have the mindset where I'm going to hit 230-yard drives,” Wie said. “Hopefully, I won't play with Lexi, and she won't outdrive me by 50 yards this week.

“But, yeah, I'm definitely one club less, not hitting as far as I want to. At the same time, I'm just really excited that I can hit balls. I can come out here and play. Kind of played just five holes yesterday, 13 holes today. I'm working up to 18 holes, so hopefully by Thursday I can play 18.”

Ko has been playing extraordinarily well through her own injury. She had her wrist drained two weeks ago and will be looking to win her first major championship and third title this year. If Ko wins at Evian, she will become the youngest major championship winner in the history of men’s or women’s golf. She will be 17 years, 4 months and 22 days old on Sunday. Young Tom Morris was 17 years, 5 months and 8 days old when he won the British Open in 1868. If Ko wins, she will also vault to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, becoming the youngest to do so.

Pettersen, 33, put on a ball-striking clinic a year ago, winning her second major. She made strong runs in the last two majors, tying for second at the Ricoh Women’s British Open in July and tying for sixth after a Sunday fade last month at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
Ko pushed Pettersen hard at Evian a year ago in a Sunday back-nine duel and finished second.

Lewis, 29, hasn’t won a major this year, but she’s threatening to sweep all the other significant awards in the women’s game. Lewis leads the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year race, the LPGA money list and the battle for the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. No American has swept all three of those titles since Betsy King in 1993.

Park, 26, is aiming to win back-to-back majors in back-to-back years. She won the first three majors of the year last season, becoming the first to do so since Babe Zaharias in 1950. Park said that run took a lot out of her when it ended at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, and she still felt it playing Evian a year ago.

“I feel like I'm probably in better condition; my body is in better condition; my golf game is in better condition than last year,” Park said. “I didn't win as much as last year, but I feel like I have matured and my golf game has improved a little bit. So, yeah, I think I have a little bit more confidence than last year when I was here.”

Park won the Wegmans LPGA Championship last month.

Thompson, 19, is seeking to add to the Kraft Nabisco title she won in April. She has some nice history at Evian. She finished third a year ago and tied second as a 15-year-old back in 2010, before the event was a major.

“It’s definitely different being introduced as a major championship winner,” Thompson said. “It’s a huge honor . . . I love every bit of it, and it’s great to be back here in France.”

Evian Golf Resort endured a difficult debut as the LPGA’s fifth major a year ago. It didn’t look, feel or play like a major after undergoing a renovation plagued by a hard winter and wet spring. The difficulties were exacerbated by unrelenting weather challenges the week of the championship. The event was shortened to 54 holes last year and played with lift, clean and place in effect every round. The course was pockmarked with bare patches, with dozens of spots marked as ground under repair.

According to Wie and Thompson, the course is ready this week despite another wet year.

“I'm just really impressed with the conditions this year,” Wie said. “The greens are rolling perfectly.

“It's been a short year with bad weather, and it's absolutely unbelievable how great the golf course is playing right now. It could not be any better.”

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.