Hooks and cuts: Els, France and the Olympic Games

By Rich LernerJuly 25, 2012, 2:47 pm

EVIAN-LES-BAINES, France – From the men’s third major of 2012 to the site of the women’s fifth major in 2013, here are some hooks and cuts for your entertainment:

Greg Norman collapsed in a heap at the Masters in 1996 and you knew it was over midway through the final round. Adam Scott stubbed his toe four times over the last four holes and fell an inch short of the finish line. The results were the same. Painful.

• Sometime in the next two weeks I will watch Olympic gymnastics with my wife and say, “Wow, she really stuck that dismount.”

• Heading into August, Tiger Woods is Player of the Year, though not the player he was.

• Some weeks on Tour, when it’s time to eat, we drive the rental to Outback. This week, we’re taking the boat to Lausanne.

• In a Golf Digest interview I did with Ernie Els in 2010, he told me he figures he would have won six or seven majors had Tiger not been on the scene. What Tiger did, he said, “was crazy.”

Bubba Watson’s Masters is still the major of the year, with the British a memorable second and U.S. Open third.

• Bunkers in the States compared with those at Lytham are really just sand covered fairways.

• Ernie loves the Rolling Stones, and after wins he often hops on the private plane and cranks, “Start Me Up.” Oh to have witnessed that victory flight on Sunday.

• Tiger may not be as lethal as he was, but he fights just as hard.

• Ernie or Phil? Who has had the better career? Phil’s been more dynamic, Ernie more complete. Phil’s won more on Tour, Ernie more around the globe. It’s close. The next five years determines second best in the Tiger era.

• You’d like to think Ernie would figure a way if he had to live without the anchored putter. The sense is that he and others will have to soon.

• Evian becomes the LPGA’s fifth major next year. The company that owns Evian, Danone, is investing serious money, and in these tough economic times the LPGA doesn’t hear too often the phrase, “investing serious money.” And like other participating sponsors Rolex and Lacoste, they’ll use the event to grow their brand in Asia. Joe Pesci, as Nicky Santoro in “Casino,” said it best, “It’s always the dollars.”

• What’s so admirable about so many of the great players in the game is their pride. Fabulously wealthy, Ernie still digs, grinds and eats dirt because he loves the sport and loves to compete. I hear people say that the Champions Tour will struggle because the big names will have made so much cash they won’t need to play. But it doesn’t matter how many real estate deals they do, in the end they’re golfers. Nothing charges them up like shooting 65 and winning tournaments. It’s what they do.

• I argued with a couple of colleagues three years ago that Ernie would win more majors. I always side with huge talent and hard work. That’s why I believe Scott will recover and win a major. If they do ban the anchored putter, though, I might revise that forecast if Scott struggles again on the greens.

Rory McIlroy’s slide is one of 2012’s great mysteries. Young, wealthy and single is usually a great place to be in life, but the focus sometimes isn’t as sharp as 32, hungry and married.

Michelle Wie, lacking flow and natural rhythm in her swing and putting, would do well to take a page from an old-school play book. Marlene Stewart-Streit is a former U.S. Amateur champion. After shooting 71 at age 69 alongside Rocco Mediate in a pro-am a few years ago, Rocco, absolutely flabbergasted at the performance, asked Marlene over a single malt scotch, “How in the hell do you do it? You didn’t miss a shot today!” Marlene put her glass on the bar, looked at Rocco with a smile and said, “I thought about only two things my whole life, tempo and balance. That’s it.”

• As kids we’d imitate our favorite Olympians. We loved high jumper Dick Fosbury and his famous Fosbury Flop. My mother would’ve liked to see us follow in the footsteps of the giant Russian weightlifter Vasily Alekseyev and pick something up, like the clothes strewn on the floor of our bedroom.

• Magnanimous in the claret jug ceremony, Els was empathetic to Scott and savvy enough to reach out to President Mandela. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that with this performance, Els cemented his status as not just a great player but a beloved champion.

• France gets the Ryder Cup in 2018, in part because their bid offered Versailles for parties. You think Louis XIV liked a good hot dog at the turn?

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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.