Underdog Rose battles Merion for first major

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2013, 2:33 am

ARDMORE, Pa. – One half-expected Justin Rose to sprint up the hill to Merion’s 18th hole Rocky-style, arms hoisted high, triumph etched into his face, but then comparing the East Course to Apollo Creed is a disservice to the old maid.

For the 113th U.S. Open, she played the part of Ivan Drago, the Russian thug who pummeled the Philly hero in 'Rocky IV.'

Balboa, however, would be the perfect cinematic metaphor for Rose, a soft-spoken 32-year-old who wrested himself from a competitive abyss to claim one of the game’s most coveted prizes.

He missed 21 consecutive cuts to begin his career, played six full years on the PGA Tour without a victory and endured every blow Merion and a mixed bag of Open contenders could throw at him on Sunday. But as bright sunshine brought the East Course’s 18th green to life late Sunday Rose emerged from 18 rounds, eh – holes – battered but better than any other.

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Just 10 minutes earlier that storybook ending seemed very much in doubt.

In a round that featured 19 lead changes and five different players who held a share of the lead throughout a frenzied day, Rose’s maiden major was in doubt until the last chip, a climbing attempt by Mickelson from 30 yards short of the 18th green that raced by the hole and relegated Lefty to bridesmaid status – again.

“I kept trying to commit to golf shots. That's all I can do. You can't worry about what Phil is doing or what other guys are doing,” said Rose, who closed with a 70 to finish at 1 over par and a shot ahead of Mickelson and Jason Day.

“I felt like I got my momentum back on the stretch of (Nos.) 14 to 18. I felt like it gave me a little bit of wiggle room coming down the stretch, which I think everybody needed on this golf course.”

Not that Rose paid much attention to the chaotic comings and goings on Sunday. Before arriving at Merion the Englishman sent his caddie Mark Fulcher a picture of a tunnel, which was hanging on a wall in his house.

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“I thought it was a wonderful idea,” Fulcher said. “Simply staying in the middle of the tunnel. If you move out of the tunnel only bad things can happen. I said I’d follow him. We just envisioned finishing the 18th hole and walking right over to (No.) 1 and swiping a 3-wood down there and just keep going.”

It was the perfect tonic for a topsy-turvy week that began under threatening skies and the enigma that is Merion, outside the Open rotation for more than three decades, and ended in the flurry of a fluid final-round leaderboard.

Mickelson began the day clinging to a one-stroke advantage, played Nos. 3-5 in 3 over par – including two double bogeys and a birdie – and played catch-up the rest of the way.

Lefty, now a six-time runner-up at his national championship, seemed to grab the momentum when he banged his approach from the right rough off the pin at the 10th and into the hole for eagle to move back into the lead at even par.

“It put me right up on the lead and right at even par where I thought would be the winning score, and I had a couple of birdie opportunities with 11, 12 and 13 coming up,” said Mickelson, who closed with a 74 and has now broken par just once on 21 Open Sundays.

As Rose was walking down the 12th fairway he heard the roar Mickelson’s miracle shot stirred and embarked on a lengthy debate with Fulcher about whether Lefty had made birdie or eagle. A glance at the leaderboard above the 12th told the story, and Rose – the first Englishman to win the Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970 – answered with an approach to 2 feet to tie Lefty at even.

And on it went, for the next six holes Day, Hunter Mahan, Mickelson and Rose took turns holding, then releasing, the lead.

By the time the field had crossed back over Ardmore Avenue the Open had turned into a ball-striker’s ball – with Rose, Mahan, Day and Mickelson ranking third, 11th, 61st and 92nd, respectively, in that category this season.

Mahan blinked first, making double bogey at the 15th hole, followed by Day, who made bogey at No. 14, and finally Phil, who made a sloppy bogey at the 122-yard 13th hole and followed that with another at the 15th.

Mickelson’s chances to win the major that has eluded him his entire career essentially ended at the 16th when he missed an uphill 8-footer for birdie. The Open that finally appeared to be aligned for Lefty slipped away for good with a drive fanned left into the trees at the 72nd hole. All that was missing was a corporate tent and a trash bin.

But this wasn’t Winged Foot, where some would say Mickelson booted his best chance at winning an Open, but this one hurt, nonetheless.

“For me it's very heartbreaking. This could have been a really big turnaround for me on how I look at the U.S. Open and the tournament that I'd like to win, after having so many good opportunities,” said Mickelson, who made headlines earlier in the week when he flew home to attend his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation and returned on a red-eye flight on Wednesday and arrived in Philadelphia about three hours before his Thursday tee time.

“But this one's probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times. Except I just keep feeling heartbreak.”

Tiger Woods could sympathize with Mickelson’s Open frustration. His Grand Slam drought has now run to five years and counting following a third-round 76 and a tie for 32nd. The world No. 1 last hoisted a Grand Slam keepsake at the 2008 U.S. Open, an inexplicable run regardless of injury or inconsistent play.

“I struggled with the speed, especially right around the hole, putts were breaking a lot more, I gave it a little more break and then it would hang,” said Woods, whose 13-over total is his highest card at the Open when he’s played all 72. “That's kind of the way it was this week.”

Woods’ claim that poor pace on the greens led to his pedestrian week is supported by his tie for 53rd in total putts (1.78 putting average). But then many in this week’s field could attest to similar confusion on Merion’s contoured putting surfaces.

After a 32-year hiatus from major championship golf, the grande dame proved to still be up to the challenge of Grand Slam golf. For the week, the East Course played more than 4 ½ strokes over par (74.552 scoring average) and Rose’s 1-over-par winning tally may not be what USGA executive director Mike Davis envisioned – just ask him, he will tell you – but it certainly wasn’t a disappointment.

Merion proved to be the brute she was billed to be, playing the role of Ivan Drago to perfection and leaving a wake of the world’s best bruised and battered for a TKO; while Rose was perfectly cast as Rocky, resilient and ruthless until the very end.

As he hoisted the Open chalice over his head late Sunday, the resemblance was not lost on the Philly phanatics. They may have wanted Mickelson to shed his major monkey, but they could appreciate Rose for what he was – the champion.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.