After four tough days, Whyte sends Baylor to finals

By Ryan LavnerMay 27, 2015, 1:47 am

BRADENTON, Fla. – Each night when they returned to the team hotel, Lauren Whyte and Hayley Davis allowed themselves three seconds to complain about their day.

“This is the day it’ll turn around,” Davis would try to convince her teammate. “I’m telling you, this is the day.”

But the message can be delivered only so many times before it eventually loses its effect.

Whyte’s high scores kept piling up at Concession: An opening 81. Followed by an 85. And then a 94. And an 82. Four days of stroke play, and not once did her score count toward Baylor’s team total.

Of the 84 players who finished four rounds here, Whyte was dead last, 54 over par, 57 shots behind winner Emma Talley.

“She was down,” head coach Jay Goble conceded.

“It’s really been hard for her,” Davis said.

The closest to Whyte in the individual standings was Duke freshman Lisa Maguire, who has endured her own struggles this season. And incredibly, both Baylor and Duke’s fates came down to those two players Tuesday during the semifinals of the NCAA Women’s Championship.

After more than an hour of clutch shots and big putts and steely nerves, Whyte prevailed with a bogey on the 24th hole of her match. On Wednesday afternoon, Baylor will play Stanford in the championship match. Neither school has ever won a national title.

That it somehow came down to Whyte and Maguire made this one of the most unforgettable days in college golf history.  

Whyte, a freshman from St. Andrews, Scotland, didn’t even crack the team’s lineup until late March. She’s failed to shoot in the 60s during regular-season play, and then she had a few disastrous rounds here at Concession.

Full coverage: NCAA Division I Women’s National Championship

Even as her woes continued, Whyte reveled in the Bears’ stroke-play success that earned them a No. 3 seed for match play.

“I guess you need to deal with the bad to come out the best,” Davis said of her teammate. “She’s probably been through the worst.”

Earlier Tuesday, in the quarterfinals against Tennessee’s Hannah Pietila, Whyte dropped the opening four holes during a 4-and-2 loss.

Sent out first again in the afternoon semifinals, Whyte traded bogeys with Maguire and was 2 down at the turn. She won the 10th, and then the 12th, and the 13th and 15th, too. By the time she stood on the tee of the par-5 17th hole, she had a 2-up lead with two to play.

That advantage disappeared quickly. She promptly tugged her tee shot into the water, leading to a bogey and lost hole. And then on 18, her tee ball was unplayable in a bush, and the ensuing double bogey sent her match into extras.

The turning point in overtime came at the 22nd hole, the par-5 13th. In good position off the tee, Whyte drilled a 3-wood that trickled into a greenside bunker, leaving her an awkward 60-yard shot. Her third shot came out too hot and scooted over the green, into a valley.

The hole is nicknamed “blackjack”, because a member once made 21 there.

LPGA player Jessica Korda tweeted, “I wouldn’t want that chip... It’s hard.”

“Heck no,” Brittany Lincicome replied. “I’ve been there hahaha.”

“A lot of people would just pack it in and take the loss there,” said Goble, but Whyte de-lofted her 60-degree lob wedge and bumped her fourth shot into the bank. The ball rolled out to 5 feet. She made the par putt, ho-hum, and moved on to the next.

“She stepped up and delivered,” Goble said, beaming.

A couple of solid drives and 7-irons over the next two holes – and an ill-timed block on the 24th hole by Maguire – touched off a raucous celebration by Baylor.

“She’s so tough,” fellow freshman Dylan Kim said of Whyte. “She has such a great mind and she’s a fighter. We know how hard she’s been trying.”

Added Davis: “That’s the best golf I’ve ever seen her play. It says a lot about her that she could do that on that stage.”

On the opposite side was Maguire, who struggled mightily all season and found herself in an uncomfortable position, with everything riding on her success or failure.

With her team eliminated, Maguire stared blankly into the woods. Her twin sister, Leona, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, consoled her from a few feet away.  

“It’s always tough to take a loss,” Lisa would say later, barely above a whisper, “but to lose it this way was especially so.”

Maguire and Duke head coach Dan Brooks have labored through a swing change since she arrived on campus in late August. Basically, they’re trying to get Maguire to utilize her lower body more to increase her distance. The results haven’t been pretty – she’s ranked outside the top 400 individually, and she had only one top 20 and a 77.07 scoring average in 10 starts.

“Anything she hasn’t accomplished this year,” Brooks said, “is because I messed with her golf swing.”

Still, Brooks saw signs of progress, such as Maguire’s bunker shot on the 23rd hole, when she had little green to work with and an opponent only 25 feet away for birdie. She splashed out to a few feet.

“She went from being a player on the periphery,” Brooks said, “to one who had everything at stake. I’m very proud of her. That showed a lot of guts.”

But this was Whyte’s moment, after a miserable five-day stay here at Concession.  

Goble’s confidence in his No. 5 player never wavered, mostly because of Whyte’s poise and confidence.

“It just makes you believe that she’ll hit the shots,” he said.

And she did, spectacularly, to put Baylor on the brink of a national title.

“Today,” Whyte said with a smile, “was me playing my part.”

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)