After another mini-slump, Westwood back again

By Rex HoggardMay 8, 2014, 8:19 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The sun was just making its way over the treetops at TPC Sawgrass when Lee Westwood made his way to the first tee, which was not exactly center stage for a player who three years ago was the top-ranked golfer in the world.

“If they would have shouted out their names, I'd have known them all by name,” Westwood cracked about the handful of fans that braved the morning conditions when the Englishman set out at 7:15 a.m. (ET).

But if Westwood’s opening 67 at The Players is any indication, he seems at ease with obscurity, although his play of late suggests he shouldn’t get used to it.

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After a winless 2013 Westwood seems to have emerged from yet another swoon, this time thanks to something old.

Westwood split with his longtime swing coach Pete Cowen before the 2012 PGA Championship and spent about six months last year working with Sean Foley – whose stable of players includes Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan. He switched again in February when he began working with Mike Walker, a disciple of Cowen’s.

“I’ve always worked more in positions in the golf swing, and Sean would put on the TrackMan and maybe change my setup position,” Westwood said. “I’ve always done things a little unorthodox, bent left arm, and I’ve always had the ball quite a way back, and he wanted me to move it up, and I feel uncomfortable with my technique doing that.

“I like a lot of stuff we worked on, and I enjoyed working with him and really enjoy his company, but sometimes you and a coach don’t match up.”

With the move to Walker, Westwood won for the first time since June 2012 last month in Malaysia, but after a career filled with peaks and valleys he’s far from announcing himself cured.

“If I found something in Malaysia I lost it at Quail Hollow,” he laughed, referencing his missed cut last week in Charlotte.

This is nothing new, and it’s the kind of perspective that only comes from a man who has enjoyed and endured both ends of the success scale.

“I'm experienced enough now to have patience and wait it out. I know what golf is like,” he said.

Indeed he does.

Westwood began the 2001 season ranked fifth in the World Golf Ranking and slowly, sometimes painfully, nosedived to 219th in the world by the time the 2003 season closed. His climb back atop the marquee was just as languid until he took over the top spot in late 2010.

So forgive him if he doesn’t get rattled by a winless 2013 and another arid spell. Or when he tunes out the predictable noise that surfaces each year when the major championship season arrives.

In case you hadn’t heard, Westwood is the consensus “Best player without a major.” He’s done everything else, claiming half of the single-season Runner-up Slam in 2010 (second at the Masters and Open Championship) and has added third-place finishes at the ’09 PGA Championship and ’11 U.S. Open.

Even golf’s faux fifth major has eluded him, with four top-10 finishes at The Players but still no title.

Perhaps Westwood takes solace in the process, like he does with his fairways-and-greens approach to the game (as an aside, he hit 12 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens on Thursday).

“He’s a very rational person which not everybody is,” said Walker, who figures Westwood turned the corner with his swing thanks to a cross-handed chipping drill at the Shell Houston Open.

Nor does Westwood seem all that interested in Europe’s pedestrian record at the PGA Tour’s flagship event. Just three Europeans have won The Players, which was first played in 1974, although two of those three (Sergio Garcia in 2008 and Henrik Stenson in ’09) have come since the event moved from March to May.

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson: If you want to win the cup back have the PGA of America play the matches at TPC Sawgrass.

Part of this drought is the byproduct of inexperience and indifference. Westwood has played only six of the last 10 Players, and the two recent European victories have dovetailed with more of the continent’s players relocating to the United States.

“It’s not our style of golf,” said fellow Englishman Justin Rose, who is tied with Westwood at 5 under par. “We don’t grow up on Bermuda grass and the whole stadium type golf is not something we’re used to, so it’s probably that we’re not as confident here.”

But then confidence has never been an issue with Westwood, through good times and bad. Throughout it all, from the world’s top ranking to No. 219, he’s maintained his ballstriking superiority and his distinctly subtle sense of humor.

“I’m writing your lines for you now,” he joked with the media after another one-liner on Thursday.

He always has – another collapse, another comeback, another chance to claim that missing major, be it faux or otherwise.

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.